Ozark witch-hazel is a shrub, often sending up sprouts from the base, or (less commonly) a small tree (especially in cultivation).
Leaves are alternate, simple, 2–5 inches long, inverted egg-shaped to oval, tip blunt or rounded, base wedge-shaped to rounded, uneven; edges wavy to almost lobed above the middle; dark green above, with veins lying below the surface, paler below, with veins prominent. Leaves turn brown in autumn and tend to stay on the tree through winter.
Bark is tight, not peeling; gray to brown, often with gray blotches, pores narrow, cream-colored.
Twigs are rather stout, light brown to reddish-brown or gray, densely velvety-hairy, later smooth and light or dark gray.
Flowers January–April (rarely in December), clustered or solitary, fragrant; petals 4, orange to dark red (rarely yellow), narrow, ribbonlike or straplike, only to a little more than½ inch long.
Fruits September–October; a hard, woody, elliptical capsule ½ inch long, splitting down a 2-parted tip/ending in 4 sharp, curved points. Capsule pops open, forcibly discharging seeds to a distance of up to 30 feet. Seeds large, hard, black, 1 or 2 per capsule.
Similar species: Eastern witch-hazel (H. virginiana) has a more limited distribution, scattered in Missouri's eastern Ozarks, with a disjunct population in Barry County. It flowers November–December (rarely as early as September); flowers are yellow (not orange to dark red) and the petals can reach ¾ inch long. Leaves are strongly uneven at the base, with one side being straight and the other side being rounded to heart-shaped. Its leaves tend to fall off in autumn.